Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Things to do and see in Siem Reap, Cambodia

We sit at the stone ruins of Angkar Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The grounds of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap Cambodia

So I've shared my travellers tips for Siem Reap, so this article focuses on what I did whilst there. As we only stayed one night in Siem Reap, this is a slightly condensed 'things to do', but I hope you find it useful.             

Visit Angkor Wat       

The temple of Angkor Wat reflects in the moat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Angkor Wat Khmer is the largest religious monument in the world

A no brainer, and our main motivation for visiting Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was first a Hindu temple, but then became a Buddhist shrine. It is stunningly breathtaking, with steep steps to the main temple. It's stonework is unbelievable - you could easily while away a few hours just taking it all in. 
The famous monument is surrounded by a moat, so you have to take a long walk along the footbridge to get to the main attraction. This however simply builds the anticipation of the spectacular monument itself.  
But be warned, the temperature during the afternoon is pretty unforgiving. Apart from some shaded areas, the temple is fairly open, so pack a hat and dress appropriately.

On the dresscode front, it's worth taking a long sleeved top if you want to scale the heights of the temple. As with Bangkok, modest dress codes apply, and they won't accept a shawl over a short sleeved dress. Arms must be covered, so bear this in mind.    
Another tip for Angkor Wat is to view it from the hilltop during sunset. It was pretty crowded when we went, but the views were spectacular and it was a great atmosphere. Plus if you purchase one $20 ticket, you can visit Angkor Wat in the evening and all three sites the next day. 

Visit the Prasat Bayon in Angkor Thom 

Angkor Thom, the temple of many faces

The stone face of Angkor Thom is said to look like King Javayarman VII

Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom are situated in Siem Reap

Otherwise known as the Temple of many faces, this was my favourite site in Siem Reap. The temple featured huge stone faces - their expressions serene. Built in the 12th century, the faces of stone are said to resemble the ruler of the time - King Javayarman VII.   
The Prasat Bayon is just a ten minute tuk tuk ride away from Angkor Wat, so it can easily be visited on the same day.
While this temple doesn't attract the same attention as its more famous contemporary, you'd be foolish to miss it.

Take a look at Ta Phrom

The temple of Ta Phrom has been used in the Tomb Raider movies

Possibly one of the most photographed of the the three temples, and the backdrop for the Tomb Raider movie, Ta Phrom is remarkably unrestored, which only adds to its appeal. With large, overbearing trees taking root and pushing out the stonework, Ta Phrom looks remarkably undernourished, however it's purposeful lack of restoration creates a sense of the temple being combined with nature.     

There may be a time when there are more trees than temple, but for now it's a chilling illustration of man VS nature.

One thing's for sure, I'd be very scared to be here alone at night.

What to avoid in Cambodia

The air conditioned souvenir and jewellery shops 

Upon arrival, our driver (not the tuk tuk driver, a van driver who brought us from the airport) ended up showing us the handicraft stores and a rather impressive jewellers claiming to sell real gems.

However, it pretty much turned out to be fake tat that was being pedalled, so I'd avoid these places at all costs. And if you fancy shopping, go out into the local markets to buy from those that need your service the most.  I'll share this cautionary tale in more detail in another post.     

Things we missed out on

Inevitably, with such a short stay, there were a lot places we could have visited but didn't get round to, namely:
  • The floating Muslim village
  • The lake of Ton Le Sap  
  • The Angkor National Museum   
Now while that's a bit of a short and sweet 'things to do' I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. It goes to show that you can do Siem Reap in just over a day, without missing out on the main sites.    

Monday, 27 July 2015

Travellers tips for Siem Reap, Cambodia

The view of Angkor Wat relfecting on the water

Angkor Wat in Siem reap is a Buddhist temple

While planning our trip to Asia, Cambodia was on the 'maybe' list, along with Vietnam.     

We would loved to have seen both, but to do Thailand, Hong Kong, Phuket, Dubai, Cambodia AND Vietnam in two weeks seemed a little crazy. So we settled on Cambodia, mainly because of the attraction of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. 

We had a one night stay in Siem Reap, which was just enough time to absorb the three main temples and explore a little of the locality. 

It was also great to explore a place which was much more relaxed and serene than the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, I can see why Cambodia is known as a gentle community.    

But before my lowdown, I've thrown in some tips for if you're planning to visit the city. 

Siem Reap basics        

Allow time for immigration  

When arriving at immigration in Cambodia, we were greeted with a rather lengthy procedure.  We visited at the time of the Ebola scare, so we had an additional health form to boot, but even without this, there was a three line whip for your paperwork. So be prepared for a lot of stamping and checking. In all, I'd say we were spent about an hour going through the various checks.

Take a passport photo with you

At immigration, we were told we needed to provide a passport photo to accompany our documentation, or pay $5 USD for them to take one. So obviously it's worth taking a pick with you, as $5 could go towards a meal in the city. Which brings me to my next point...

They deal in dollars

That's US Dollars. Believe it or not, Siem Reap prefers US Dollars over their currency - the Riel. Even in the market stalls they prefer dollars.  The Riel itself is inflated insanely - I think it was 2,000 Riels to the pound. So you feel like you're something of a millionaire when exchanging. 

Dealing in dollars is more convenient, especially if you're from the US, or are planning a trip there.  It's also easier figuring out if you're getting a good deal on your buys. However, when giving change smaller than a dollar, shops and restaurants tend to hand you back some Riels, so it's best to use them on small buys during your stay.

Invest in a tuk tuk driver 

A tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Having had our fill of bartering with tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, I didn't fancy doing the same thing in Cambodia. 

However, that was until I realised that in Siem Reap it was the norm to book a tuk tuk driver for the whole day for a fixed rate, and they'd wait for you as you visit all the sights.    

We paid $15, the going rate for a tuk tuk driver, for the whole day. He was polite, courteous, and patient. And he even offered to drop us off at the airport for our flight back.     

With the same driver, you get a sense of comfort and security, and it turns out much better to pay a tuk tuk driver to take you around, rather than one of the commission driven airport cabbies. But that's another story for another article. 

Be ready for pushy salespeople      

The full moon night market in Cambodia, Siem Reap

Whether it was a market stall or a store, we were sold at in Angkor Wat like no other place. 

Oh my, you pick up one item and four people come up to you, with a basket in hand, ready to fill it with items. We were stalked around a handicraft store, nagged to buy in the marketplace. By the end, we didn't dare look at anything in any shops. I thought the souks of Marrakech were pushy. This was a whole new level. 

One temple tickets gets you three sites, and a night view

The view of Angkor Wat from the hills

Desi girl's blog at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap

Hubby and I paid $20 each to visit Angkor Wat, and we're pleased to hear that we got to see the other two main temples, Angkor Pho and Angkor Thom, with the same ticket.    

Also, a tip our driver gave was that if we visit Angkor Wat the night before after 4.45pm, it's free to enter if you buy a ticket for the next day. So essentially, you can get the sunset view from the hills, and then visit the sites the next day all with the same ticket. 

So those are my tips, I'll next be posting my things to do.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Eid Festival in Trafalgar Square, London - bringing communities together

Desi girl's blog at the Eid festival, Trafalgar Square

The stall at the Eid festival in Trafalgar Square
So yesterday I went to the Eid festival held in Trafalgar Square.  I was in good company as thousands of people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, joined the festivities and got into the celebration spirit.

Amongst the stalls offering clothes, perfume and food from all parts of the Islamic world including the Philippines, Saudia Arabia and Malaysia, there was a main stage playing music, showcasing comedy and more.

It was hugely refreshing to see a main stage London event which showcased what is good and great about the Muslim religion and the various cultures of different countries.  It was a far cry from the usual image of Islam that we are presented with every day – that of oppression, violence and extremism.     

The Mayor of London Eid Festival celebrates Eid-Ul-Fitr

In truth, what was on show yesterday was the true face of the Muslim community, that of openness, tolerance and peace.  Tourists from across the world, came to have fun, enjoy the music and sample the great food.  It was also great to see the diversity of people at the event, hijabis, non-hijabis and non-Muslim guests all came together to celebrate Eid.  Growing up in a non-Muslim area, I would have never expected to see Eid celebrated by all on such a large scale.

It’s just a shame that this kind of event will never make breaking news, but all the bad things that claim to represent Islam will.
I wanted to share some pics of the event, and also to keep things light and desi, some pics of my Trafalgar Square hair. To copy my fishtail plait, check out my real-time tutorial below: 

Friday, 24 July 2015

What's the best blusher shade for Asian skin - pink or peach?

Another video rant / discussion for you!  This time I address an issue afflicting many of us Asian or dark-skinned girls – what is the best blush colour for our skin?  Do we go matchy-matchy with tan or peach shades?  Or go bold with a vibrant pink?  

This video discussed the best, most flattering blusher shades for Asian skin. I try out Green People's peach blush, and Mac's Dollymix, so you can which shade looks best.

I also share my early experiences of buying makeup as a teenager in Wales. These were the days before Mac became mainstream and Sleek even existed.  Put it this way, I rocked a lot of chalky hues back then! 

Pink and peach blush on Asian skin

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  If you dark skin, what shade to you prefer?  Also, if you’re pale skinned, are there any shades you avoid?  


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Quitting my job to go freelance

Old-fashioned typewriter
So I just went against my own advice – I quit my job without another role to go to.  After years working for big corporates and an international NGO to boot, I’m leaving the safety and comfort of a full-time, secure managerial role to embrace the big scary world as a freelance PR consultant.   

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Pimping out my drawers... makeup storage solution

White wooden makeup storage drawers

White wooden cosmetic organiser

Ok well not quite... But I have been making a conscious attempt to de-clutter my makeup bag(s). 

I originally looked at the Perspex Kardashian style makeup drawers, where you can see everything you've got tucked away and there's a generous amount of space for your makeup. However I baulked at the retail price, I mean £80 for a plastic box????!!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Where to eat in Phuket: No.6 restaurant review

Thai curry with prawns, carrots, onions and sauce,
The age old advice states that if you want to sample authentic cuisine, pick a restaurant where the locals are eating.
This certainly applies to Indian restaurants in the UK - if it's frequented by non-Asians, chances are it will be bland and not quite up to scratch. 

So I adopted this rule of thumb when looking for food places in Phuket, Thailand, and following the guidance paid off.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Matte purple eye makeup tutorial in real-time

Another real-time tutorial from me- I am a sucker for punishment! I show you how to easily pull off quite a tricky makeup look, matte purple eyeshadow on Asian / dark skin!  I've created a bit of a challenge for myself with this tutorial because:
a) I'm just using shades from one palette - Sheer Cover Modern Neutrals
b) I'm using the makeup brushes provided with the palette- a MUA no no!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The perils of eating out for Iftar during Ramadan

Indian buffet with pakoras, chicken wings and fries

So for those of you who don't know, we're over halfway through Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. 
It involves abstaining from food and drink for around 19 hours a day, everyday, for a month. This means that you can only eat after sunset and before sunrise, which in London time, means between around 9.25pm and 2.35am. During this five hour window, naturally we opt to eat as much as we can. However in reality, we can only muster 1.5 meals, a feast to open our fast - called iftar - and a 2am light bite. I call it light because at that unsociable hour, my body rejects anything beyond porridge and milk. 

However, a fateful trap we consistently fall into night after night is developing eyes bigger than our bellies. 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Russell Brand - a refreshing version of celebrity

Russell Brand on Desi girl's blog

So I recently had the pleasure of meeting the man, the myth the legend that is Russell Brand.  He came along to an iftar dinner held for homeless people who stay at the Booth House Salvation Army in London.